Rugby-star quality can’t rescue the food here

Stylish decor and tuna that resembles a prosthetic limb

Lemon and Duke
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Address: 1 Royal Hibernian Way, Duke Lane Upper
Telephone: (01) 6796260
Cuisine: Fusion
Cost: €€€

Go on, Lemon & Duke. Prove me wrong. Challenge my narky cow assumption that swanky decor means that’s where the bulk of the thought went. Let my nose for a nonchalant attitude to bookings be totally wide of the mark. Just because your website only seems to allow diners to reserve an area for 20 people or more doesn’t mean you’ve no interest in serving me and a friend a good dinner. Right? Surprise me.So it is without a booking but an open mind I’m headed for a new Dublin bar brought to us by what the press release calls “the dream team of Rob and Dave Kearney, Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip, with business partner Noel Anderson”. The same press release has promised I will be be greeted by a “a raw honest interior with tactile materials” as opposed, I suppose, to the overcooked, dodgy interior with tacky materials of lesser bars.

It’s certainly a handsome place. Although at night the grill pulled down to close the Hibernian Way shopping centre makes the terrace look a bit lonely and locked in. You walk in through a corner door. Tonight most Dubliners have chosen the nearby and crumbling Kehoe’s pub, where the footpaths are rammed, over the sleek new model. There’s a lone couple sitting at the barrel tables outside Lemon & Duke, which makes me feel just a little bit sorry for the place.  But that’s just Indian-summer herd behaviour.

Inside, this new bar is happily a bit busier. Lemon-coloured leather covers a long banquette along the window wall while the natty leather chairs are finished with a panel of Chanel-style quilting. They’re a comfortable relief from school chairs or wobbly skip finds. It all has the feel of a good room despite the vaguely industrial ceiling and bare block wall, which is covered with black-and-white images plastered in shouty red slogans. It’s a wall of cut-and-paste inanity that makes kitten posters seem profound.

A box has been drawn around two dishes on the menu, the cured salmon and the 10oz strip steak. We asked why but the waitress shrugs and smiles sweetly. Maybe they’re to draw the eye of a time-pressed diner who’s too busy to read the other options. We take the beet-cured salmon.

The good news is the salmon is good. But tiny. I’ve seen more fish on a couple of slabs of sushi rice. “More like an X-ray than a portion,” the friend remarks. She likes the pumpernickel crumb sprinkled over the edge of her salad until I say it reminds me of something you’d tip out of the toaster.

My seared yellowfin tuna is terrible. The two slices are cut as heftily as gammon. The fish has been cooked to the colour of a prosthetic limb with a small halo of soft liverish raw flesh left to enjoy in the middle. Salad leaves have too-chewy, cold edamame beans sprinkled through them. The “toasted brown rice” element consists of soggy grains of brown rice tossed over the whole thing, a real contender for the world’s worst salad sprinkle.

I’ve chosen what sounds like a knockout combination of lamb, leeks and crispy anchovies but the plate is a heart-sink, falling far short of its promise, like a bad blind date. The lamb is fine but cooked until it’s putty-coloured to its centre with some fairly gnarly bits of gristle to chew along the way. The plate has been left under heat long enough for the “jus” to meld with the plate and turn the bulgur wheat gravy-brown. There are no anchovies, crisp or otherwise, and baby leeks have nailed the bitter side of the charring idea but failed to balance it with any sweetness. The nicest thing on the plate is some soft fluffy goats’ curd.

Across the table some corn-fed chicken is better, juicy-on-the-bone meat with a good herby sauce. But it’s let down by a slab of watery underflavoured “green olive” mash.

Desserts might have saved the game but after being left alone so long with the drinks menus, we wonder if we’ve blended into the decor. They tell us with another shrug and smile that the kitchen closed at 9pm. So no desserts. Two glasses of indifferent Rioja round us off instead.

By now they’ve turned up the music to sternum-rattling and the place is chilly. “Don’t make us sound too old when you write that,” the friend warns as we reach for our coats. Actually I think we’re too sober to enjoy this place. It’s not about the food at Lemon & Duke. High rents and “raw, honest” interiors require you to sell lots of €14 cocktails to lots of people. Damn. First impressions proved comprehensively right. This might be someone’s dream. It’s just not mine.

Dinner for two with two cocktails and two glasses of wine came to €94.80.

LEMON & DUKE, 1 Royal Hibernian Way, Duke Lane Upper, Dublin 2; Tel: 01-6796260
Facilities: Nicely designed but undermaintained.
Music: Loud and gets louder.
Food provenance: Fivemiletown cheesecake the only producer named.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
THE VERDICT: The tastiest thing you're likely to encounter here is a glimpse of a rugby player.